Pai Gow Poker Game Rules And Strategy

17 March 2016 4 minutes to read
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Pai Gow Poker is based on the ancient Chinese domino game pai gow. The game is played with cards instead of dominoes. To avoid confusion between the two games the card game must be referred to as pai gow poker and not pai gow.

In this article I’m going to discuss the game’s house edge, strategy and different variations. For bankroll preservation pai gow poker is a good game: it has a low house edge and the volatility is low.


House Edge

In pai gow poker the probability of a win is 1.3% higher for the banker than for the player. The reason for this is because the banker normally wins on ”copies”. Copies are hands with the same hand value. The probability of the copy on the back hand is 0.32% and on the front hand it’s 2.55%. To win your bet you must win both the front and back hand.

Keep in mind that a commission of 5% is retained by the house. The more players there are at the table the better it is for the banker. Reason being a commission of 5% is charged on the net win rather than on a hand-by-hand basis. If you’re a single player playing against the dealer the house edge is 2.73%. The house edge for the banker is 0.20% which is significantly lower.

If you’re prepared to bank, the house edge depends on a number of factors:


  • The number of players at the table.
  • The average bet per player.
  • How often you get a turn to bank.
  • Your skill and the strategy employed.


If you want to bank, look for a table where the turn rotates around the table and skip players who don’t bank. Even better, look for a table where if players decline to bank the option goes to the next player. In games like this, irrespective of the number of players you can bank every other hand as long as they don’t bank. If you’re not comfortable with banking then don’t do it. A serious mistake most players normally make is that they over bet their bankrolls.



Aside from setting up your cards properly being the banker is advantageous for two reasons:


  • You win on matching hands (copies).
  • The 5% commission is not charged on each individual win only on the net win.


The Two Pair Rule

This variant can be complicated. Before you play consider the point value of each pair’s rank-it must correspond to the poker value. A pair of fives count 5 points, a pair of eights 8 points and a pair of queens 12 points. All you need to do is to add the point value of each pair. For instance a two pair of fives and sevens, the total point value is twelve. Always split the two pair unless:


  • The total point value is 9 or less. If you have an ace or king singleton.
  • You have an ace singleton and the total point value is 15 or less.

Based on my calculations, your expected return is increased by 0.04% above the conventional two-pair rules.


Fortune Pai Gow Poker

This is an ordinary version of the game with an optional side bet. Based on the make-up of the player’s seven cards the side bet pays. If a player gets four-of-a-kind there’s also any ”envy bonus”. To qualify for the envy bonus the player must wager at least $5 on the side bet. Before the bonus comes into to play the house edge is 5.85%. The more players seated at the table the house edge is reduced by 0.93%.


Fortune Pai Gow Poker Edge

Amount of Players House Edge
0 5.58%
1 4.92%
2 3.90%
3 3.06%
4 2.10%
5 1.20%


Progressive Pai Gow Poker

For each of the five winning hands some games offer a side bet of $1 that pays according to a separate progressive meter. The meter contribution rates can fluctuate since the last jackpot hand of five aces. The house edge of this variant is 42%. When someone wins, the casino can decide how high it wants to reseed the meters. This also has an impact on the house edge. Before you play have a look at how high the meters are.

Multiply the probability of each hand by what it pays at the time to determine your expected return. Taking the high house into account the odds seldom favor the player.


No Push Pai Gow Poker

This is another popular variant. Although it has the same rules as normal pai gow poker there are some minor differences:


  • The dealer is always the banker.
  • Winners don’t pay commission.
  • The next two cards are set to break ties after all hands are dealt. One card for the player and one card for the dealer. All players win on the tie if the players’ card is highest. The dealer wins the tie if his card is equal or greater. Under these rules the house edge is 3.9%. Even if the player never banks it’s higher than conventional pai gow poker.


California Rules

There are several pai gow poker club card rooms in Los Angeles. The dealer never banks in these clubs and is simply there to deal and shuffle the cards. Winnings don’t carry a commission of 5%, however, the dealer takes a rake out on every pot. High rollers normally pay a rake that’s less than a commission of 5%. If the other players don’t bank this normally favors the player that does.

In summary. When playing pai gow poker act as the banker whenever you get the opportunity. If you’re not banking bet less because the house edge is higher. If you’re playing two-pair, split the two pair otherwise you’re playing against a higher house edge.

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